This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

IMG_20171221_130715983On the left is a picture of the hall pass in my classroom. It is four months old. On the right is a new one. That is what the old one looked like four months ago.

How did this poor little bit of laminated plastic get so mangy? Was it dragged through a radioactive sewer full of piranhas shooting lasers?

No. It was taken by 16- and 17-year-olds to go to bathrooms in the same hallway as my class. That’s it. All that destruction and decay resulted when this pass escorted teenagers to the potty.

There’s some hair stuck to the bottom.

The next time a student complains that I don’t respect them enough as mature young adults, I’ll show them this picture.

Tomorrow is the last day of the semester. After class, I will destroy the old pass by soaking it in bleach, incinerating it in a furnace, and burying it in a lead box on Mars.

I’m curious to see how long before the new pass also looks like a ragged refugee from some dystopian novel about hall passes.

Huston’s Guide to Teenage Slang: “Extra”

EXTRA (adjective): describes any act as having been done with any degree of quality or style at all, as opposed to rock bottom apathy.


*student does a project to the bare minimum expectations, with a minor flicker of creative investment*

Other student: What?! Why do you have to be so extra?


“There’s No Such Thing As Normal!”

In my years of teaching, perhaps no pop-culture cliché has annoyed me as much as this.  I’ve heard dozens of earnest, zealous teens announce this one with a look of holy glee on their faces, ecstatic at the chance to show off how well they’ve internalized this bit of media indoctrination.

Whenever this line gets repeated, I, in my role as a teacher of the English language, feel compelled to address the error:

Me: “Yes, there is.  It’s in the dictionary.  Look under ‘N.'”

Teen: “But it doesn’t mean anything.  There’s no such thing as normal!”

Me: “Since you won’t look it up, or consider my point, I’ll walk you through this.   Continue reading

“I Threw It On The Ground”

I know this is hardly new, but it’s great and I was reminded of it again this week when a student, giving a speech in class about (naturally) hating school, actually said that he wouldn’t be controlled by our system.  

Just like the narrator of this song, who creates a perfect parody of this attitude: an arrogant rejection of some grand conspiracy to oppress him (a conspiracy which clearly doesn’t exist because, in the ultimate insult to the pompous sensibilities of the young, the mundane world is actually oblivious to their insignificant, predictable narcissism).  

I was also reminded of this fantastic little Onion article from last summer.  


If the Real World Worked the Way Students and Parents Think School Should Work

Scene 1

IRS- Tax forms must be submitted by April 15.  No exceptions. 

Citizen A- But I didn’t have time!  I had other things to do. 

IRS – What things got in the way of a priority obligation that comes around ever year?

Citizen A – You know, like dances and field trips and clubs and stuff.

IRS – That’s OK.  Just get it in when you have a chance, please.

Citizen B – I didn’t understand it.  Can I just do it later?

IRS – Did you file for an extension with us first?

Citizen B- No.

IRS – Did you contact us for help ahead of time?

Citizen B – No.

IRS – Sure!  Do whatever you want! 

Citizen C – I have some other excuse.  Can I get out of it, too?

IRS – Of course!  Those firm deadlines aren’t for people with excuses for not getting it done. 

Citizen D- This sucks.  I don’t want to do it either.

IRS – Hey, sure, cool.  No pressure.  Do some of it when you can, or not.  Whatever you want. 

Citizen E- I already did my taxes, but I did them way, way wrong.  Can I still turn them in and get credit?

IRS- Fine by me!  It wouldn’t be fair to make you do them over.


Scene 2

Boss- Smithson, you’ve been late to work more often than not, you no-call/no-showed twice, your last expense report was copied from Wikipedia, and you keep breaking the company’s policy about no personal calls during work hours.  I’m afraid I have to reduce your salary.

Employee- You can’t do that!  You hate me!  That’s not fair! 

Continue reading

Can Kids Tell Time?

This year, as I taught summer school, something scary presented itself to me.  I was required by my administrators to keep a sign-out log with names and times for kids who left the room, usually to go to the bathroom.  A dozen times this summer the following scenario played itself out:

A kid would approach my desk and ask to go to the bathroom.  I’d direct them to sign out on the log.  They’d write their name, then ask me what time it was.  Now, there was a standard office wall clock literally right in front of us.  I’d answer by showing it to them and they, in turn, would then stare at it for a while, scrutinizing it in deep meditative thought.  After a moment, they’d all repeat the exact same motion: they’d pull a cell phone out of their pockets, flip it open and glance at it, then finish filling in the time on the sign out log. 

The first few times this happened, I just chalked it up to their fondness for their cell phones–this was just an excuse to look at their beloved precious one more time.  However, as the summer went on, a far more ominous reality dawned on me. 

This generation has had not only electronics, but sensitive and accurate digital readouts, not only conveniently available but literally omnipresent, their entire lives.  For any one under a certain age, a brightly lit readout of the time has been only a turn of the head away, and maybe not even that far, 24/7, 365.  Analog clocks are not only obsolete to them, but alien. 

We’re used to rotary phones and television antennas and (*sigh*) books being outdated antiquities now, but…clocks? 

I’m sure the skill is still taught to young children, but is it, perhaps, so neglected in the real world that it has already been completely forgotten by the time they reach me in high school, no more relevant than the metric system or square dancing or the words to “This Land Is Your Land?” 

Are teenagers today actually unable to tell time?

Teaching Integrity

This was my thought yesterday after seeing a small group of stoner slacker kids commiserating over some new trauma in the back of my room as I was trying to start a lesson, and they reacted hostilely when I directed them to sit down:

“If you actively pursue a lifestyle that attracts drama, violence, and failure, don’t act surprised when your life is filled with drama, violence, and failure.”

And don’t expect sympathy.

I desperately want to communicate this lesson to my teenage charges, but there’s just no way to say it diplomatically enough–I’ve gotten in big trouble for saying far less harsh things.  Oh, well.  Anything I’ve ever said or done up until this point on the subject clearly hasn’t made a difference to them, anyway…